Over the past few weeks, I've posted a handful of polls on LinkedIn to understand where the industry believes competitive sales advantages lie.

I approached it from the organizational circumstances an individual has backing them, the personality traits of the individual, and the expectations put on them by the agency. The results of the surveys paint an interesting picture of who has the natural advantage.

The good news is (spoiler alert) every producer can create advantages for themselves.

Does environment matter?

Whether it's online discussions, calls with prospect agencies, or coaching calls with clients, I spend most days talking to benefits and insurance producers. Not surprising, the misconceptions of what it takes to compete in today’s industry are quite common and consistent. Way too many (at least the average producer) feel their success is mainly determined by their environment--the agency for whom they work.

The job of any salesperson is challenging, but competing in this industry brings particular challenges. If for no other reason than the competitive environment has been stagnant for so long but is now being faced with new agitators seemingly every day.

On any given day, a solopreneur may be competing against a local independent agency, a large regional brokerage, a venture capital-backed startup, a decades-old agency, PEOs, payroll companies, online competitors, and even publicly traded brokerages. The varied competition in this industry is extreme.

But who has the advantage?

As an individual producer, it could be easy to feel the odds are stacked against you on most deals. However, the most successful producers I talk to and work with have a completely different perspective on where the real advantage lies.

As Henry Ford articulated so well, "Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right."

LinkedIn Poll #1

If competing for the same opportunity, which do you feel gives the producer/salesperson the best chance to win?

Works for the largest agency 2%
Been in business the longest 3%
Has the most resources 16%
Is the most prepared 79%

How interesting is this?!

If you paid attention to the typical industry marketing and sales messages, you would think just the opposite. Producers and agencies beat their chest over the size of their organization. They brag over how long they've been in business. Then they drone on and on about how special their list of services makes them.

What a bunch of hyperbolic BS!!

Yes, it is crucial to have the resources, but every professional knows: don't show up for work without the right tools. Just because it would be a disadvantage not to have the tools doesn't make their possession anything special.

The participants of the poll agree with what I have always known to be true. On any given deal, the advisor who shows up the most prepared to address the buyer's needs has put the odds of winning overwhelmingly in their favor.

Good news #1 – Every advisor has preparation within their control.

Hard wired for the win

Successfully hiring producers is one of the most significant challenges faced by our industry. If I'm honest, for any number of reasons, most agency owners suck at this.

They don't know how to evaluate for skills. The world of selling has drastically changed since they started their career. Most of all, salespeople interviewing and hiring other salespeople quickly devolves into a who-can-sell-who contest in which there are few, if any, winners.

The hiring process is only the beginning of the challenge. Once onboard, most agency owners are at a loss about how to train, coach, and regularly monitor a salesperson's progress.

Hiring salespeople will never be straightforward and will never come with guaranteed results, at least not desirable results. If there were one thing that would improve the odds and outcomes for both sides, it would be knowing what trait to look for during the interviewing process. Certain characteristics help fill in the post-hire gaps in questionable environments and work like a “secret sauce” when applied in a healthy agency environment.

LinkedIn Poll #2

What is the most important trait for a salesperson?

Curiosity 23%
Intelligence 8%
Likability 23%
Resilience 46%

I am SO fighting the temptation to make a "lack of intelligence" comment. 😏

But seriously, given the difficulty of prospecting and selling, I can completely understand why so many people chose Resilience. I didn’t.

My answer to this one is Curiosity. When someone is curious, they are ALWAYS curious. This means they are always learning. They ask questions. They are always more interested in the person sitting across from them than they are in talking about themselves.

I will concede, without the right tools, traits, and environment, the most resilient are going to outlast their less resilient competitors. However, if you are genuinely always curious, you will face less rejection and significantly lessen the need for tough skin.

Good news #2 – If you aren’t naturally curious, you can be more so by creating a list of everything you want to learn about a prospect. By researching and asking questions to fill in the blanks, you will give yourself the next best thing to natural curiosity. When you experience the upside of curiosity, I am confident your natural tendencies will then grow exponentially.

Expectations influence results

I always find it shocking how many agencies shy away from setting aggressive goals for their producers. Many don't set sales goals, while others merely go through the motions. The resulting goal is more of a suggestion than an actual expectation. Worst of all, there is rarely, if ever, any accountability or consequences for falling short of the goals.

I say I’m shocked, but I’ve seen it so consistently, and for so long, I've come to expect it. The reason is apparent. Today's agency owners grew up in environments without goals and accountability. They tell themselves, "I did just fine without them, and so can my team." 🙄 Even if they wanted to provide goals, accountability, and consequences, most aren’t sure how.

This may be the most valuable lesson for an agency to learn for the benefit of everyone involved.

My experience is the best salespeople want to be in an environment with high expectations. They appreciate being held accountable for results. They even want consequences for falling short. It ensures they will be competing on a team of high performers.

However, they also expect the agency to carry its weight by providing the necessary support. My third poll backs up what I have learned through experience.

LinkedIn Poll #3

If you were an insurance or benefits producer looking for a new agency to work for, which approach would you find most appealing?

No sales goals 4%
Modest goals, no accountability 9%
Aggressive goals, structured accountability, with agency support 87%

Are you shocked? You shouldn’t be. Only poor and average performers are comfortable in an environment where they can hide. These enabler agencies serve up an abundance of excuses that everyone consumes.

Instead, set big-ass aggressive goals for your team. Enforce those goals with respectful accountability and meaningful consequences, and your growth will go into hyperdrive.

Admittedly, that kind of growth may not happen with your current team, but you will be replacing them with a much higher level of talent. The thing is, this also raises the bar on how you run and lead the organization.

Good news #3 – If, as an individual producer, you are in an agency that doesn't set aggressive goals and provide accountability, you can do this yourself. Set your personal goal and find an accountability partner willing to kick your ass when you start to fall short. (But if there isn’t a level of agency support to achieve your personal goal, look for a new agency.)

Personal make-over

You may not like the profile of who you are today, but the winner in you is just below the surface. Follow a three-step improvement plan, and you'll leave your complacent competitors in the dust:

  1. Always be prepared.
  2. Always be curious.
  3. Always expect more of yourself.

This, my friend, is all in your control. And isn't control really what a winning salesperson wants?